Former Colchester United skipper Richard Wilkins is backing his old club to launch another promotion push this season.

Wilkins, who captained the U’s side that clinched promotion to the third tier following victory in the division three play-off final in 1998, is preparing his Needham Market side to take on his former employers in a pre-season friendly at Bloomfields tonight (kick-off 7pm).

Wilkins, who moved up from his assistant manager role to succeed Mark Morsley as the Marketmen’s first-team manager at the end of the season, is friends with Colchester assistant manager Steve Ball, having worked with him at Leiston.

And the 52-year-old, who made more than 300 appearances during his two spells with the U’s, believes his former team can improve on their eighth-place finish of last season and earn promotion, two decades on from their last elevation from the fourth tier.

Wilkins told the Daily Gazette: “I get on very well with Steve (Ball) and I have some good friends at Colchester – I had some very good years there as a player.

“I like to keep up with how they’re getting on and it was a shame they couldn’t quite get promotion, last season.

“Their hands were tied with the injuries they had but they only lost two of their last ten games, so they finished strongly.

“I know what it’s like when you have a mountain of injured players and you are playing players who aren’t necessarily quite ready.

“If they can get points on the board in the first ten games of the season like they did last season, they have a good chance.

“Steve and John did a good job last season and I know that they will be pushing their players to achieve a higher finish.

“I wish Colchester well and they showed enough character and commitment in the latter stages of last season to give everyone evidence that they can challenge again.

“I’m hoping that they’ll be right there pushing, as there are some great people at Colchester.”

Wilkins wants to see his Needham Market players make a positive impression against Colchester tonight, as they prepare for their forthcoming Bostik League Premier campaign.

“I hope that we can give a good account of ourselves,” added former Bury Town boss Wilkins, who was a Football League Trophy runner-up with the U’s, in 1997.

“It’s a big test for my players and a daunting one.

“It’s great for us at Needham Market that we have such a good relationship with Colchester United and we benefited from having some players from there on loan.

“I think in a game like this, it’s vital that when you get hold of the ball you keep it and your retention of the ball has to be good.

“Realistically, we won’t have 60 or even 50 per cent possession of the ball – it’s more likely to be 20 per cent but it’s about how we act when we haven’t got it, in terms of shape and the defensive side of it.

“It’s a game for the crowd more than anyone else and hopefully, there will be a few hundred there watching and they’ll enjoy the evening.”

Colchester will take a similar squad to Suffolk for their friendly with Needham Market, with the majority of their squad likely to play 45 minutes each on the pitch.

The likes of Craig Slater, Sammie Szmodics, Denny Johnstone and Frankie Kent will continue their return to action having missed the final weeks of last season because of injury.

After taking on Needham Market, the Colchester squad will leave for Cheshire tomorrow for their pre-season training camp which will include a game at Welsh Premier League club Llandudno FC, on Friday.